So, let’s do a little non-mathematical calculating:
- Parkinson’s Disease: progressive, degenerative neurological condition that (among MANY other things) affects muscular control. This is making me stiff & shaky, affecting my balance, and making it increasingly difficult to cast a flyline with my right hand
- I refuse to give up fly angling yet. It’s part of my identity and good for me in many ways
- I’m embarrassed to have other people watch me cast a fly rod
- If my skills don’t improve at least as fast as my ability decays, I might not be fishing much longer.
Solution: Pride must be abandoned. And not just for fishing.
I took a quick trip last weekend to the border regions of Montana and Wyoming near Sheridan, WY and Fort Smith, MT. I had a singleminded goal for the trip: improve my fly angling skills. My highest priority was to improve my lefthanded casting abilities. Next was paying attention to the details of two waters I’d never fished before: the Big Horn River north of Fort Smith, and Piney Creek south of Sheridan. I got connected with Clark Smyth of Rock Creek Anglers to float a few miles of the Big Horn River in his Adipose drift boat (technically, a skiff…) When I first talked to Clark, I let him know that I have PD and that I’ve just switched over to casting with my left arm. I described my “abilities” and told him my goal for the trip. “I’m here to help,” is what he said, and he repeated it several times during the trip.
The first step is admitting that a problem exists, right? Describing my shortcomings and my desires to Clark felt like I was tearing little strips of pride off my skin. It was uncomfortable, almost painful. Then when we hit the river and I made my first few casts, the feelings of embarrassment were smothering. But, just like the pride that holds me back from asking for help, this pride eventually faded. I became receptive to the help from someone who genuinely seemed to want to help me. Clark was a great advisor and teacher. Thanks to his coaching, I can now cast dry flies better and farther than I’d ever hoped. My favorite moment of the day involved a fish I missed: I made a LOOONG cast (for me) into a little 3-by-3 foot opening between a couple of willow bushes. I rolled the fly in low and it flopped nicely into exactly the spot I wanted. Clark hadn’t gotten halfway through saying, “Nice cast!” when a big fish swirled on my fly. I tried to set the hook, but missed the fish. Then I set the fly right back in the same spot. Another brilliant (for me) cast! No second take by the fish, but I found a bandage to cover the raw spots where I’d torn bits pride out of my psyche: pride of accomplishment.
This new ego boost was accompanied by a bit of deflation as well. Humility returned when the surface fishing cooled and we switched to underwater fishing. “Nymphing” with wet flies usually involves rigging with extra weight to “get the flies down” where the fish
The next day was spent wading in a medium stony-bottom creek. Two aspects carried over from the previous day: My dry fly casting was still improved and felt fantastic (most of the time!), and clumsiness with heavier nymph rigging persisted. I was also very encouraged that my guide, Cole, told me on a few occasions that he liked how I was thinking. But this day’s lesson would not bring a balance of shedding and rebuilding pride.
Walking a stony-bottom mountain creek is definitely not as easy as walking a street, unless the street is covered in random-sized rocks and drops off a few inches or several feet within a single step. Even better, sometimes these rocks are covered with organic goo that makes traction impossible. It’s slow going for most people, wading upstream over a grease-coated obstacle course. (And this is fun?) After four or five near-falls, another form of pride began to fade. I’m not talking about the kind of “almost fell” where you say to yourself, “Oops, I stumbled there.” I mean this kind: “Holy &*@#. How am I still upright?” So when Cole asked me to move upstream a couple of steps at one point, The Little Voices got into an argument. Pride shouted, “Step up, Angler. You’ve done this your whole life.” Something resembling wisdom whispered, “Do you really want to fall today?”
I sloughed off more useless pride and asked, “Mind if I put a hand on your shoulder to step around you?” I steadied myself and stepped up with some support. A few minutes later when I shifted my feet a little, I lost my balance and I caught myself on his arm. “I’d apologize,” I said as I chuckled at myself, “but I think we’ve gone past the point where personal space has meaning today.” He laughed a bit and replied, “There is no personal space. Just our space on the river.” He offered me his elbow or forearm the rest of the day to allow me to stabilize myself when we were walking in the creek. Mostly, I accepted.
Something in my character has always regarded the act of asking for help as an admission of weakness. For the fiercely independent (and the narcissistic), it’s a small sin to rely on someone else for assistance. I turned an unexpected corner this past weekend, where I was able to stop judging myself by my old standards and not only accept help, but ask for it. Good things happened.
Parkinson’s Disease might be having a negative impact on my body, but it’s teaching me things that I would not likely have otherwise been capable of learning. I think it’s probably good to start learning this particular lesson sooner than later.
And I’ve asked for a wading staff for Christmas. :)
(This is the highly-unanticipated third-and-half installment of what was intended to be a four-part series. Part I, Part II, and Part III are available for your continued